RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW SHEFFIELD ARTIST MAT HOOK
Hiya Mat, a blast from the past, used to love Kartica, why did it end?
It was a shame cos I loved it and being in that band and in an ideal world I’ve been in it forever! But there was a culmination of things, some personal, some to do with the band. We’d had 6 years at it and for most of that time I felt it was always building, although slower than id’ve liked! But by one point there was definitely a real buzz about us in the city and beyond!
Frustratingly, I felt there was a golden 6 month period around the debut single ‘Don’t You Think So!?’ getting released that I don’t feel we really capitalised on. That song really started gaining traction but to have any chance in this game you gotta be prepared to work really hard, gig often and all over etc, but mainly behind the scenes.. and I didn’t see enough of that going on.
There was also a lot going off in my personal life, my Dad was dieing (of cancer) my brother developed cancer, I had a newborn daughter, was in the midst of a breakup with her mum and to top it off I’d lost my job around that time also. The last straw was tensions between me and Joe, the guitarist. We led the band, which was great if we were on the same page… We’d had a great relationship at times over the years but he seemed to start moving different, both in a band sense and a personal one. Things were said and done which I thought, “I’ve had enough”. I’ve had a full range of interactions with him in the years since.
Neil Hargreaves of Aggressive Management came into be our manager in the last 6 months or so but by that point, I already knew my time in it was coming to an end, so I was kinda adrift. He messaged me a year or so later saying he now realised I did “everything for the band” and wished me well. It was a nice touch!
Introduce us to you and your musical history.
Ha the members! Well I have pretty much a football ‘squad’ worth of band members. I use a revolving group now, 3/4 Drummers, 3/4 bass players and so on… It gives me freedom, both in the project sense.. (No one’s stepping on any toes) and also in the gig availability sense. If I wanna play a gig, providing I’m around, I can usually rustle up a group for it.
The lad who’s turns out most is Dave Howard (singer/songwriter of The Hudares) he was the guitarist for my first live performance in 7 years and although we knew each other relatively for years, he’s become a great pal over this time. Amongst others I’ve had Matt Dacey (The Spires/AUX innocent), Dan Smith (Section 60) Kyle Sales (Matilda Shakes) and Jack Haywood (Reanimate) I also have a number of fellas for who music is a full time job and these guys are incredible when it comes to how accomplished they are to come in and do a gig.
What was life like for you before music?
Life before for me was generally pubs, nights outs and football. I was a bit wild at times in my late teens and got into plenty of scrapes and my mates were the same. (I was more “rock ‘n’ roll“ before I ever joined a band than since ha!) Tbf it seemed like everyone I knew was like that back then, there were just some crazy and often hilarious incidents. There’s a time when you’re about 15-20 where everything feels like an adventure, for better or worse.
But despite having plenty of memorable times, I look back now and realise I was a bit lost (it’s a recurring theme!) I was 17/18 trying to make sense of the world. I think some people had me down as a bit of a lager lout/headcase. I was fiercely loyal to the people I held dear but at the same time probably expected too much of that in return. I always remember around that time feeling ‘different’ and feeling like I needed an outlet to express myself and my emotions. I had this burning desire to do something out the ordinary, make a mark etc.
I was obsessed with music back then, more so than now, in a listening sense. I searched out new bands constantly and identified with them and listened over and over to the records I liked. The idea of actually making music was more of a fantasy, something I’d daydream about, None of my mates could actually play anything for a start (haha) and many weren’t overly fussed about the type of music I liked. But with the help of another mate, I taught myself the guitar to a really basic level at 18 and that was a start.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
I think the first record I bought was a rap song ‘Jump’ by Kriss Kross. I thought Kriss Kross were the coolest kids in the world (haha) I also remember listening to Michael Jackson a lot and aside from that, just whatever compilations my dad had on or the radio in the car. I still love loads of the 80’s stuff because of that.
I was totally obsessed with football as a kid. Both playing and watching (if my mates wanted to know anything about a team or a player, I was the one they came too) and I kinda lost interest in music. I remember starting secondary school and an ‘icebreaker’ question was whats your favourite act and I listed “East 17” cos I couldn’t think of anyone else! (haha) Oasis came along in ‘94 (when I was ten) and I remember seeing them on ‘The Chart Show’ but not being fussed.
It was only when ‘Wonderwall’ came out a couple of years later they caught my attention. I remember seeing an interview with Liam & Noel, they reminded me of my older cousin who I looked upto a lot, the humour and style etc and I just thought “Yep, these’ll do for me!”
Why come back as a solo artist?
After I left Kartica, I was just in a real free fall to be honest. I mean some really dark times, I wasn’t working much, I was just in my head all the time, struggling with that and the situations happening around me. I’d lost all perspective, I couldn’t see a proper career path, I couldn’t really see anything, so I sorta retreated into my own world. My daughter always gave me a purpose but apart from a few close mates I cut ties with many from the past and became a bit of a loner. Didn’t really trust many, I was wandering round like a ghost for a few years, going for trips on my own, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, different cities, you name it.
I eventually became closer to a few good friends and through all that time you never quite lose the music bug, it’d get mentioned from time to the time, but I literally didn’t touch a guitar for 3 years. I heard the Noel Gallagher song ‘Dead In The Water’ one night and was blown away by it, to the point where I recorded myself playing and singing it about 1am one night (as viewable on YouTube) after I got home from spending the night in an empty pub just out of curiosity to see if I still had ‘it’. I was pleasantly surprised when I played it back so posted it on social media and it went down a storm! (People appreciate things more when they think it’s over!) From there I played guitar more often and eventually wrote a few songs, the lockdown came about and I started doing more & more YouTube videos.
Once it ended, my old mates ‘Section 60’ asked me to support them at a comeback gig after a mutual friend, Richard McHugh, had planted a seed. It was a real 50/50 moment to say “yes” to, and I “uhmmed and ahhed” for a while. It was the first gig in 7 years but turned out to be one of the easiest and most relaxed gigs I’ve ever done and it really set the ball rolling..
What’s the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?
I wouldn’t say there’s been any particular lightbulb moments but I’ve definitely picked up things from various people I’ve come across, just people like Tufty for example, who I’m recording with, have a wealth of knowledge about various workings of the industry.
A lot of it is also more witnessing mistakes other people have made or just the years of experience I now have. I’ve learned most from Kartica’s mistakes in the past.
When I think back to Kartica it was a real opportunity missed in many ways cos the music, the image and the intensity of the following was all there. We had people getting tattoos of the lyrics, driving 100 miles+ to see us, or complete strangers from elsewhere in the country creating internet fan forums. We’d made that impact on people, the biggest hurdle, but we were so naive to the workings of the business you’re in.
We had no industry people in and around us to show the way and had no real idea how to market ourselves properly. It was all this romanticised idea that we just had to exist and the crowds would come flocking and despite what your mega-famous-favorite-act wants to tell you, that ain’t how it works.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.
I once sent my mate to hospital after doing a ‘pedigree’ wrestling move on him in school. I was the 2016 UK National Yodelling Champion! I’ve scored a goal on Sky Sports!
If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?
Being photographed around loads of really hot birds! (haha). I think all that I’d look for at any of the stages of my career is more exposure. That’s the golden ticket. I’m lucky or whatever you want to call it, that the music projects I’ve been involved in have so far been well received by enough of a proportion of people who’ve been exposed to them, I’ve never had to question “is the material good enough?”
Because time and time again, whether it was Kartica or now, people have generally responded positively to it. Of course, it’s always when the people you don’t know come with that energy, that that conviction solidifies. It’d be nice if I could be 15 years younger again too!
Do you ever worry about people taking things the wrong way or cancel culture? Discuss….
It’s obviously a big talking point and one that can have serious consequences but I’m not really bothered about things I can’t control, especially after where I’ve been. On the same note, as much as I’d obviously love my music to be successful, at the same time, if there was a fuss to develop over it and some level of fame to come, I’d welcome it but really could take or leave it also.
My desires don’t go any further than wanting my music to be heard and potentially earning a few quid in the process. I also know I’ve been misinterpreted in the past by many people and likely will be in the future. Ultimately I’ve got enough faith in myself to know I’m coming from a genuine place.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories? If not why not?
No, I went down the rabbit hole with a few in the past while I was looking to make sense of things and I think that’s ultimately where conspiracy theories gain traction. From people who are trying to make sense of everything in a world where often things just don’t really don’t. And that’s ok!
What was the worst experience on stage?
Touch wood I’ve never had too many. I played one recently where I started to come down with illness midway, feeling dizzy and honestly thought I might feint on the stage, but got through it.
I’ve been audibly called a few things at times and I’ve played some really rough places, definitely not for the faint hearted! I remember at one there was some fella throwing up on the bar as we arrived, but no one batted an eyelid… That was about 1 pm!
I’ve played some pretty moody characters in some pretty moody atmospheres. We. interlinked with our mates ‘Section 60’, had a bit of a football following and there were plenty of characters kicking about at gigs. One of the Kartica after-parties in town got shut down by the police cos it all kicked off big time! Riot vans are everywhere!
The one that sticks out above all else though was headlining the O2 Academy in Sheffield. An old mate of mine Luke from said band was absolutely paralytic and 2nd song into the gig (the biggest we’d played at that point) I suddenly see him appear on stage with me trying to grab the mic, knocking the drums, and just generally being a nuisance.
He didn’t know what day it was and was totally unpredictable in the state he was in. Security was nowhere to be seen so aside from throwing him off, I was left with the option of keeping an eye on him while we tried to play and hoping he got bored… He did eventually and wandered off into the back, to everyone’s relief!
Tell us something about you / each member that you think people would be surprised about.
As I say my current band is a revolving group so I can only really answer as far as myself and it’s that I’m pretty introverted which apparently is not the image people either have or expect of me. I don’t take myself, or life too seriously and I have a soft spot for classical music, country, and old-school soul!
What makes you stand out as a band/artist?
I think I’ve got a good voice, good songs, and look alright up there but most importantly I honestly just think. In fact, I’m convinced, I’m just made for this… It’s an energy, whether it’s writing, singing, performing, or engaging with people. I just feel totally at home doing it and especially on stage, I feel like I belong. I also feel relatable, I’m not too cool or too muso or whatever
I’d stand in nightclubs as a youth envisaging the people there as an audience at a gig. And it feels the same looking out nowadays on stage as it did looking on in those clubs. From being a kid my mum would always ask me to tell a joke or do an impression at family get-togethers. I’ve been subconsciously preparing for it all my life.
I can’t say I’ve never felt nervous gigging but I usually don’t, I love that feeling of back’s against the wall, going for it, taking it on…
The responsibility of carrying someone’s night. When I’m onstage, I feel I’m gonna hit you like a hurricane. I feel I can capture that moment on stage or in a song, where it feels like you’ve waited your whole life to sing it. It’s a weird conviction that stays even if the crowd isn’t reciprocating.
The purest form of myself comes out through my music, it’s never about some spell-binding stage ‘show’ or being the most competent, innovative, or groundbreaking musician (I’m nowhere near that and never will be) and it’s not about creating ‘art’ in an isolated sense. It’s purely about expressing a deep feeling inside me, and I love it!
I hear you have new music, what can you tell us about it.
All things considered, I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve written. It’s catchy, has a groove, has a feeling, it’s melodic, and raw, and the lyrics are thoughtful and meaningful. There’s a bit of everything that you’re gonna get from my music, thrown in there.
It’s also a personal song in the sense of how, when, and why it was written. It was written as a sort of ‘I’ve been away but I’m back again’ message. A friend of mine recently described it as the type of song that comes on in “a self-realisation moment in a film” and I think that’s a really good analogy for it. It’s a song that says. It’s time!
What was the recording process like?
It really was mega! I had no idea what to expect. I’ve known Tufty for years but more as an acquaintance. I always knew he’d be a good fit for what I was looking to do, but until you’re in the studio you never know quite how it’s all gonna work out, it just might not come together etc.
It was really relaxed which helps and the different lads coming in to record parts (including an old Kartica bandmate who I hadn’t seen properly for about 8 years) added to the dynamic. The only stumbling blocks were my vocals which I can get fussy about, especially as I’m not well versed in the technical lingo to often convey what I’m after. Also as I don’t have a regular rehearsal space, some of the added production elements we had to kinda come up with as we went along and could “uhhm and ahh” about for hours.
Often there was just me and Tufty in together but Dave Howard was in on a few sessions laying the rhythm and the bass. Matt Dacey came in for the drums and, as mentioned above, Sam Cotterill from Kartica came in to do the lead. I played acoustic guitar, piano and not forgetting the all-important egg shaker! All in all, I loved being in the studio and really got the sense Tufty enjoyed making the record too.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?
I think not trying to force or over do bits or melodies or whatever. Sometimes you just gotta let whatever flows out, be. As for recording, it was a bit the same. A recording is never gonna be exactly, or sometimes even close, to how you envisaged in your head, so you’ve gotta let the ingredients you put in evolve into what it becomes and just try and steer it as you go.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
I could forever chop and change bits here and there, that’s my weakness when it comes to putting songs together. At some point, you’ve gotta just accept, against all your intuition, that the thing you wanna change, 99% of people either wouldn’t notice, or it’d make no difference to their experience of the song. That’s if you’re lucky enough to have anyone listen at all!
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Just that I’m really proud of my daughter Elsa (11) and the young woman she’s growing up to be. Her mum and mine (at least) deserve great credit for their part in that.
I’m also proud of the football leagues I’ve set up ‘Kickabout Sheffield’ @kickabout.sheff7’s @kickabout.sheff & @kickaboutsheffwomen on Instagram. We’ve had memorable, hilarious, awe-inspiring moments and dealt with both difficult moments and tragedy. Through it all I’ve met so many amazing people and can count many as friends. Easily over 1,000 players have passed through since it started (I’ve got the stats to prove it (haha)) and I can honestly say in that time there’s not one I wouldn’t be happy bumping into on the street and having a chat with. It really gave me a second wind in life and to return to music.
Finally just that I’m happy to be back doing music. The plan is to carry on and record a full album. I’m doing it for myself first and foremost, for no other reason than I enjoy it and I feel I’ve got something to offer! Whether that resonates on a wider scale with people and it leads to anything… Or if it fizzles out, I can accept either. To varying degrees, I’ve experienced both already! My sense of self resides outside of ‘Mat the Singer’. With regards to music, once the album’s done, come what may, I could easily put it all aside and think “Yeah, I’m happy with that”